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How to advocate for yourself when your doctor won’t take you seriously

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When you're pregnant, it can be hard to tell what’s serious and what's not -- here's how to get to the bottom of it.

Whatever kind of professional you’ve chosen to be in charge of keeping you and your baby safe and healthy through your pregnancy, he or she will still be inconveniently, completely human. And probably busy and also a little bit jaded. It happens to even the best of doctors.

This can make it tough to be taken seriously, especially when many of the aches and pains of pregnancy are normal and unavoidable. Sometimes it’s hard to tell what’s serious apart from what’s unfortunately normal.

All of this makes advocating for yourself extremely important. Even if you’re terrible at standing up for yourself, it’s a skill you need to learn during your pregnancy for the baby’s sake as much as your own.

I remember saying to my OB that I felt tired to the bone. She took one look at me — I look younger than I am and I was trying to talk to her at the same time as keep the toddler out of the medical supplies — and said she wasn’t surprised. Pregnancy is exhausting, no way around that. All pregnant women complain about fatigue.

Well, I knew that. I also knew I was even more tired than what is normal, even for pregnancy. It turned out my thyroid was way underperforming. That could have been dangerous for the baby, if it hadn’t been caught. At the very least, it was making my life unnecessarily hard, sending my risk of postpartum depression through the roof, and making me less available to my son than I should have been. I felt like a functioning human again once I was treated.

So, remember to be advocate for yourself and your baby. Here are a handful of tips that can help you and your doctor get to the bottom of whatever may be going on … 

Be specific

As specific as possible. Give examples of how the problem is affecting your day. Instead of saying “I’m really tired,” say, “I have to stop halfway and rest when I’m going up the stairs.”

Take notes

It’s a lot more powerful if you can say “I had four debilitating headaches in the last 10 days,” than to say “I’ve been having a lot of headaches.” It not just more convincing to the doctor — it also empowers you. It reminds you that your perception of your pain is real, and stops you from wondering whether you’re making things a bigger deal than they really are.

Don’t try to put a good face on things

Nobody wants to look weak, and a lot of us internalize the message that strong people don’t complain. Do yourself a favor and remember that bringing up a legitimate problem is the opposite of weak. Insisting on being taken seriously … takes serious guts. And your doctor won’t be able to help you if you minimize the problem.

Bring support

When there are two of you there, there is more accountability for the doctor, and you’re more likely to have the courage to speak up. If you forget some important detail, your partner can remind you. If you freeze up and don’t know what to say, your friend can chime in. They can take notes while you and the doctor have a conversation.

Ask a ton of questions

If you don’t think you’re being heard, understood, or taken seriously, ask a ton of questions. “When should I come back if I don’t feel better?” “What level of pain/discomfort raises a red flag for you?” “What will you do if this gets worse?”

If your doctor mentions anything you don’t understand, or offers too short an explanation, ask her to explain what she means. Make it clear that you insist on understanding what she thinks is going on. No doctor wants to say (out loud, anyway), “In my professional opinion, you’re overreacting.” Or worse, “I have no idea what this is.”

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